How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners, nationwide, earn a median salary of $111,680.
Anna Helhoski
By Anna Helhoski 
Edited by Karen Gaudette Brewer

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Nurse practitioners have one of the most in-demand jobs in the United States. They coordinate patient care and may provide primary and specialized health care such as evaluation, diagnosis and prescription of a treatment plan. To become a nurse practitioner, you’ll need to be a registered nurse with specialized graduate education.

Employment outlook

The following information comes from the most recent data (May 2020) by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Median pay: $111,680 per year, or $53.69 per hour.

Annual projected number of new jobs: 11,490.

Projected employment growth from 2020-2030: 52%.

10 cities and metropolitan areas with the highest concentration of nurse practitioner jobs

  • Jonesboro, Arkansas.

  • Johnson City, Tennessee.

  • Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

  • Hammond, Louisiana.

  • Jackson, Mississippi.

  • Jackson, Tennessee.

  • Gulfport-Biloxi-Pascagoula, Mississippi.

  • Macon, Georgia.

  • Bangor, Maine.

  • Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.

Education and training required

Minimum education required: Master’s degree.

Training needed: Traditional college programs. You’ll need to obtain a master’s degree in one of the advanced practice registered nurses, or APRN, roles: certified nurse midwife, certified registered nurse anesthetist, clinical nurse specialist or nurse practitioner. Typical APRN programs prefer nurses with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, but there may be “bridge programs” for registered nurses with an associate degree in nursing.

Licensing needed: Nurse practitioners must be licensed in their state and pass a national certification exam.

How to pay for your education

Financial aid availability: Becoming a nurse practitioner requires traditional college, which accepts federal aid dollars through Title IV funding. First, submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to access need-based aid and federal student loans. If you have a financial gap to fill, consider private nursing student loans.

Average nationwide nursing student debt:

$23,711: Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

$47,321: Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).

Source: Analysis of December 2019 federal student aid data from the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard.

Use the College Scorecard to search schools by “Field of Study” and compare median debt, graduation rates and salaries.

Loan forgiveness available: Nurses with student debt can access student loan forgiveness through these federal programs: Public Service Loan Forgiveness, Perkins loan cancellation, and the NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program, which pays up to 85% of qualified nurses’ unpaid college debt. Your state may also have a loan forgiveness program, which you should be able to find by searching online for your state and “nursing loan forgiveness."

Working conditions

Hours: Usually full-time hours. Typically normal business hours in physicians’ offices, but potentially round-the-clock hours including nights, weekends and holidays in hospitals and other health care facilities. May need to be on call.

Where you’ll work: Typically on site in health care facilities, such as hospitals, physicians' offices and clinics, as well as colleges and universities. Potentially meeting with patients via telemedicine appointments.

Risks: The work is often physical and emotionally demanding. Nurse practitioners may also come into close contact with infectious disease.

Benefits: With full-time employment, health care and retirement benefits are typical, as is professional liability insurance; often, there's reimbursement or an allowance for certification and licensure. There are national professional organizations for nurse practitioners, and nurse practitioners may join local, state or national unions.

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